Denver Nuggets Film Friday: It’s not enough

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

On a night where he had 37 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals while shooting 14-of-22 from the floor and 2-of-3 from 3-point range, it became apparent that Nikola Jokic wasn’t enough to will this team to victory against the Golden State Warriors. The team got their best offensive game yet out of Aaron Gordon, who had 18 points while shooting 7-of-13 from the floor, but that was where the good news ended for Denver.

While those two had a combined 55 points on 21-of-35 shooting, which is a 60 percent shooting percentage, the trio of Jordan Poole, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had 80 points on a combined 28-of-48 from the floor, including 12-of-27 from 3-point range. The series isn’t officially over, but, to this point in NBA history, no team has ever come back to win a series after going down 3-0. Three teams, including the 1994 Denver Nuggets, have come back to tie the series, but they all lost the series in Game 7.

Aside from the obvious fact that Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.’s offensive contributions are sorely missed in this series, this Nuggets’ team has been exposed in each of the last two postseasons for having a couple of pretty gaping flaws. While those two would clean up some of those warts, there are other issues that need to be addressed this offseason if the team wants to maximize the talented core of players they currently have.

Off-Ball Defense

Is Murray a better defender than Monte Morris? Yes. Is he an elite defender at the guard position? No. The Nuggets don’t currently have one, and that’s an issue, especially with the number of talented guards the league currently possesses. In the clip above, this isn’t even an on-the-ball situation. Instead, Morris is guarding Thompson off of the ball, and he just doesn’t have the awareness that he should in that situation. All three of the Warriors’ guards will shoot when they get an inch of space, and that needs to be in your head when you’re guarding one of them. Rather than running to stay tight to Thompson, Morris is trotting behind him and gives him plenty of room to catch and get the shot off. His release is quick, but Morris should have been there to deny the attempt in the first place.

Not only do the Nugget guards struggle off of the ball on defense, but the team’s forwards aren’t a ton better. When allowed to “float” on defense and use his athleticism to his advantage, Gordon can be a solid piece to a defense. However, when he’s expected to just eliminate a player from a game, that isn’t an area where he thrives. On the play above, he’s guarding Thompson following the offensive rebound by the Warriors. He and Will Barton are both in the area on the right wing of the arc. Thompson doesn’t do anything spectacular as he just runs away from both of them and gets the easy 3-point shot. Gordon and Barton’s combined lack of awareness took things from a one-point game to a four-point game in one lapse of focus.

Bucket Getters

Various members of the Nuggets’ roster have the ability to go and get themselves a bucket from time-to-time. However, outside of Jokic and Murray, they don’t have the ability to go and score on any given possession. Instead, they often need to be set up to score. Denver’s second and third-leading scorers, Gordon and Barton, were assisted on 80 percent and 71.4 percent of their baskets in the Game 3 loss respectively. Denver’s inability to score without help ends up hindering them because defenses can put more attention on the one or two guys on the floor that can score on their own. Jokic and Morris were the only players on the team with at least four made shots that had scored without an assist at least 50 percent of the time, and Morris only made four shots.

Looking at the play above, Gordon is assisted on the play, but I think he still deserves credit for the work that he did to earn himself this basket. He got to the block early and gained quick positioning on the smaller defender. Once he had done that, he was calling for the ball, and he had the easy dunk. This team doesn’t have guys that are going to win a ton of one-on-one battles and score. So, they need to adjust to gain matchup advantages such as this one and do something with it.

Sometimes, you just need a guy that can get you a bucket. Jokic can do that. Murray when he returns can do that. Right now, there’s no one else on the roster that you can hand the ball to with confidence to do that on any given possession, especially at the guard spots. Curry doesn’t do anything overly special on this play, until he gets to the layup. He gets a simple screen that switches DeMarcus Cousins onto him. Once that happens, he immediately attacks and slices through the defense all the way to the rim. His team needed a basket, and he got them one without either one of Thompson or Poole on the floor.

Not Enough Shooting

The final glaring weakness on this roster is the lack of shooting that it possesses. On Golden State, Otto Porter Jr. is the only player with eight or more shot attempts that’s not shooting 50 percent or better from the field. The leading guard trio are all shooting 44 percent or better from 3-point range. For Denver, Jokic is the only starter that’s shooting greater than 50 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Warriors are constantly getting contributors off of the bench.

On the play above, Gary Payton II is in the game. He shot 35.8 percent from 3-point range during the regular season. He’s on the floor with Steph, Poole, Porter Jr. and Draymond Green. Despite the fact that he’s not the greatest shooter, he ends up with a great look at the basket for a couple of reasons. For one, Bryn Forbes overhelps on Porter, and, for two, due to the shooting prowess of Steph, Denver has to devote extra attention to him. That opens up more space for Payton who knocks down the easy look. More good shooters on the floor means more room for the lower-end shooters.

This clip is here just for the image of the lineup in and of itself. Bones Hyland, JaMychal Green, Austin Rivers, Forbes and Jokic. Outside of Forbes, no one on this unit shot higher than 36.6 percent from 3-point range this season, and Forbes had more or less fallen completely out of the rotation a month ago. He’s the lone elite shooting threat on the floor, although Bones can get hot from time to time. This team is trotting out a lineup of below-average shooters that also play below-average defense in a close playoff game as they try to avoid going down 3-0. That just simply can’t be allowed to happen. Although Jokic salvaging the possession with an offensive rebound while surrounded by defenders is a pretty accurate description for how this season has gone for Denver.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.

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